Exit, Pursued by a Bear
By E.K. Johnston
Summary: Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine.
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.
In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale
Source: I purchased a hardcover
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I’ve been wanting to read Exit, Pursued by a Bear for some time and I finally bought it over the holidays and decided to read it shortly afterwards.
The book is a YA contemporary involving rape, which I knew going in and caution anyone else about so they can decide if that’s a subject they prefer to read about. I didn’t have any real expectations, though I have to admit I did expect a somewhat dramatic novel due to the subject matter.
Surprisingly, the book was not the dark and turbulent novel I was expecting. Though Hermione did have to deal with being drugged, raped, and the aftermath, the book wasn’t focused so much on the darkness of the subject, but rather the support she received through her friends, family, and even her cheerleading team. Hermione was fortunate in many ways to have a support system and it changed how her story of survival went. Results aren’t typical for many people, but I was grateful for the unique perspective. She did not want to be a victim, a cautionary tale, or anyone’s object of pity, and she did whatever she could, with the help of her support system to maintain her normal life and recover.
There are a few negative reviews, admittedly among a sea of very positive ones, that mention how unrealistic the book is and how Hermione’s situation is an insult to real victims. I think there are hoards of rape stories from many perspectives and many, if not most, have fairly dark and awful truths, a lot of struggling and depression and blame going around. A lot of people don’t have support systems and most works of fiction involving the subject matter reflect that. They have to fight tooth and nail against legal systems, families, friends, social groups/towns, even religious groups, to be believed and heard and may not ever get any closure. It may ruin their lives in more ways than one and they remain victims of more than just the rape at that point. But one person’s experience (even MOST people’s experiences) does not negate the experiences of others. Hermione’s tale may not be typical, but it doesn’t make her story any less relevant or realistic. People with wonderful lives, friends, families, etc still get raped and have to live their lives after that. They have to deal with the situation, make tough decisions, and move on in whatever way works for them, through trial and error, with or without breakdowns. In fact, Hermione even mentioned to her therapist that she felt like something was wrong with her because she didn’t feel anything because she didn’t remember. I feel that Hermione’s determination to not be victimized by the situation was an attitude I admired, even though I realize it’s not that simple for most rape victims.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a story about a teen girl who was drugged and raped at a cheerleading camp and the events afterwards. She had a wonderful support system. No one really doubted her, the legal system did what they could to pursue the case. But even still, she had some tough and awful moments. She faced a decision about whether she’d have to terminate a pregnancy as a result. She lost time due to being drugged and struggled with waking up in the morning because she didn’t know where she was. She couldn’t remember the event, which halted her ability to really “deal” with the events because she had nothing to relive, no emotions to work through, until pieces of her memory were recovered after being triggered by certain smells, sounds, etc. Her lack of emotion regarding her own circumstances concerned her, since it felt like it had happened to someone else. In a small town, she also had to do her best to avoid being the tragic case for everyone to remember. She wanted to remain herself and hold onto the wonderful life she knew she had. But her support system made all of these things a million times easier than they are for many people and her friendships strengthened her.
I’d recommend this book. I recommend reading it for various reasons. As a person who has not experienced what Hermione has, it was helpful because I was able to see how much a support system matters and how not to treat victims, how to be sensitive without pitying, how to be compassionate without making the victim feel fragile, how to be a friend to someone who has had this terrible thing happen to them and be a good one. The book even talked about slut shaming, victim blaming, and the way society still places a portion of the blame on the victim by asking questions like, “what could you have done to prevent it” without even realizing how screwed up that mentality is. I don’t think all stories involving rape need to be focused on being a victim. I thought this book was refreshing because, in an ideal circumstance, despite the awfulness of the situation, Hermione could overcome the events that might have otherwise further impacted her life. It’s not always simple to decide not to be a victim, but her attitude and her support system allowed her to do so. Still, if you feel that it’s a negative thing to have a character not be defined by her situation or if you feel it’s unfair to showcase a victim’s perspective when they had it relatively easy, then this is NOT the book for you. For others, including myself, it’s a refreshing point of view.
Side note: Hermione does release a breath she did not realize she was holding. *That phrase does not bother me, but if you’re already on the fence about the book, you might not like the writing.